They say the only way is Essex, but not it seems when it comes to picking the England squad. Essex-born Gary Hooper scored on his Celtic debut and has 46 goals in 70 games since moving to Scotland in the summer of 2010, but has yet to represent his country at any level. He was selected by U-21 manager Stuart Pearce last year but was forced to withdraw due to an injury. He also made the provisional squad for the Under-21 Championships, but was eventually omitted in favour of Nathan Delfouneso, who has a mere three career goals to date.
Roy Hodgson has clearly been monitoring the Scottish Premier League as Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Foster has been selected for the current squad, which makes Hooper’s absence all the more puzzling. Since England’s draw with Ukraine, Hooper has scored seven in six starts, including the opening goal in Celtic’s 3-2 win at Spartak Moscow in the Champions League. In contrast, Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck, both of whom have been selected, are yet to score in any competition this season.
The 24-year-old rejected advances from both Southampton and Reading in the summer after netting 29 times last season. He instead chose to stay in Scotland, seduced by the lure of Champions League football and is believed to be negotiating a new long-term contract. The decision looks to have damaged his international prospects, as the negative perception of the standard of Scottish football has only increased since the demise of Rangers. However, with two games against Barcelona forthcoming, Hooper will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate his talents against the best side in the world.
Evidently a good finisher, Hooper has also adapted to the physical nature of the SPL. In the aftermath of Celtic’s first ever Champions League away win in Moscow, Celtic manager Neil Lennon gave a glowing account of Hooper’s performance, labelling him “world class.” Regarding his lack of international opportunities, Lennon has since revealed that: “It would be nice to see Gary have a chance for England.
“I think he is good enough to get into the squad England. Definitely. He is only 24 and there is more to come. Since he came to Glasgow, he has improved his game tenfold in physical development and awareness. He can lead the line, he can play as a lone striker.
“People don’t think Gary is quick but he is a powerful lad and he is quick when he gets into stride. He scores all sorts of goals and they are top quality. The football intelligence is there. He has great strength. He is a very strong boy and his first touch is excellent.”
Hooper has become accustomed to rejection, having been released by Tottenham as a teenager, then struggled at Grays and Southend before rising to prominence at Scunthorpe. Overlooked by Pearce at U-21 level and again when he selected his Team GB squad in the summer, Hodgson also remains indifferent to his subsequent success. Wales and Scotland have both tried to claim him as their own, but the only way is England. Unfortunately, he would appear to be out of sight and out of mind, north of the border.
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